Marvin Junior (AP Photo/Ed Betz)
Marvin Junior, whose raw but robust baritone served for half a century as the sturdy foundation for the Dells, a Chicago doo-wop and rhythm-and-blues group that was formed when he and most of its other members were in high school in the early 1950s, died on Wednesday at his home in Harvey, Ill. He was 77.
The cause was kidney and heart problems, said his son Marvin Jr.
Iron Throat is what David Ruffin, the former lead singer of the Temptations, once called Junior. "Two tons of fun" is what he called himself. He grew up hoping to be the next Ray Charles and eventually inspired other singers, including Teddy Pendergrass.
His voice was huge and versatile - it often reached into tenor territory - and it held up through more than two dozen albums and 57 years of performing. Unlike some other acts of their era, the Dells had no angry breakups and few personnel changes.
"They grew up together and they never let the industry separate them," Junior's son said. "They didn't let anybody separate them."
Junior wrote the Dells' first hit, "Oh What a Nite," with the group's Johnny Funches. Originally released in 1956, it was rerecorded with a new arrangement in 1969 and released as "Oh, What a Night." Many more hits would follow, including "Stay in My Corner," which was originally released in 1965 and also rerecorded and released again in 1969. The reworked versions of both songs went to No. 1 on the Billboard R&B chart and reached the Top 10 on the pop chart.
Among the Dells' other hits were "I Touched a Dream," "Give Your Baby a Standing Ovation" and "The Love We Had (Stays on My Mind)."
The Dells consisted of five members: a trio of harmony singers (Verne Allison, Mickey McGill and Chuck Barksdale for a vast majority of the group's existence) and the baritone-falsetto counterpoint of Junior and Johnny Carter, a former member of the Flamingos, who replaced Funches in 1960.
"I describe it as thunder and lightning," Junior's son said of the two men's performing dynamic. "Johnny would set it up with the lightning, then Marvin would come with the thunder."
The Dells served as consultants, and an inspiration, for "The Five Heartbeats," Robert Townsend's 1991 film about a fictitious singing group. Townsend spent time touring with the Dells while doing research for the film. "A Heart Is a House for Love,'' which the Dells recorded for the film's soundtrack, reached the Top 100.
The Dells were elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. Carter died in 2009, and the Dells have not performed since then.
Marvin Junior was born on Jan. 31, 1936, in Harold, Ark. His family moved to Illinois when he was a boy.
In addition to Marvin Jr., he is survived by his wife of more than 50 years, the former Ruby Caldwell; two other sons, Shawn and Todd; three daughters, Faye Jones and Latanya and Toya Junior; 10 gr andchildren; and a brother, Jack Dabon.
Most of the original members of the Dells met while they were students at Thornton Township High School in Harvey. For a long time they practiced under an overpass in the Chicago suburb.
"It had good acoustics," Marvin Junior Jr. said.
By WILLIAM YARDLEY
Copyright © 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.